Our View: Promises made must be promises kept
By Register Star Editorial Board
Posted Jul. 19, 2016 at 5:04 PM
We can't recall a time in recent history when people have had so little trust in government at any level. One reason is that governments too often promise one thing and then ignore that promise when a new batch of officials arrive on the scene.
Here are some examples:
Remember 2002? The Winnebago County Jail was crowded with inmates. The county was being sued because of the deplorable conditions inside.
County leaders asked voters to add 1 percentage point to the sales tax to construct what turned out to be the $140 million Winnebago County Justice Center, complete with a jail to house more than 1,200 people.
Our Editorial Board was skeptical of the plan because we believed the answer to jail crowding was not tripling capacity but making the justice system efficient and implementing programs to keep ex-offenders from committing more crimes.
Near the end of the referendum campaign, county leaders added alternative programs to the list of things on which they'd spend the money. These programs would be designed to provide ex-offenders with the tools they needed to join above-ground society.
That cinched the Editorial Board's support, as well as the backing of prominent black ministers. The referendum passed 60 percent to 40 percent in the city of Rockford and 52 percent to 48 percent in the rest of Winnebago County.
Since then, county leaders have remained faithful to their promises, even though funding has been cut from the original $3.4 million a year, according to board member Ted Biondo.
Recently, however, attempts were made to abandon funding for the alternative programs and giving the money to the sheriff. The programs remain in place, but for how long we don't know. It seems not everyone respects or even remembers that 2002 promise.
More recently, the County Board voted to refinance one of the jail bonds to get $2.6 million, originally to give to the sheriff. Instead, the money may be used to pay off this year's county deficit, which is $1.6 million.
Next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, the county is projected to run a deficit of $7 million.
In Boone County, a similar situation has dissolved voter trust. In 1999, voters in Boone enacted a half-percentage-point public safety sales tax on the promise that it would be ended in 2018.
In 2015, the Boone County Board voted 8-4 to remove the 2018 sunset clause so the tax could continue indefinitely. Boone County Board Chairman Bob Walberg, who voted to continue the tax, made a telling statement.
"There was a promise made by a few people in support of the referendum (in 1999). You can't impose that on a future body. The board of 2018 will have to make that decision," he said.
We urge all voters to remember that statement. It means that when politicians promise you something in return for a tax increase, they may mean it.
But only at the time they say it